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August 15, 2014

Experts' Expert: Do dogs have a superior sense of taste?

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Good question, one that had never occcurred to me before reading C. Claiborne Ray's Q&A feature in the New York Times Science section; it follows.

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Q. Dogs have such exquisite olfactory abilities; do they also possess a superior ability to taste things?

A. Their sense of smell may outweigh their sense of taste.

Dogs indeed have 60 times as many smell receptors as humans do, said Dr. Ann Hohenhaus of the Animal Medical Center in New York, and they have 40 times as much brainpower dedicated to smell, allowing them to differentiate 30,000 to 100,000 aromas.

"Thus, in dogs," she said, "smell is likely the driving force behind food preferences and at least part of the reason dogs wolf down their food without savoring a bite." She added that dogs had about 1,700 taste buds, compared with about 9,000 in humans — another suggestion that the chemical reaction in the taste buds may be less important to dogs.

A dog's sense of taste is present at birth but takes several weeks to develop fully, she said. The taste buds are programmed to distinguish amino acids, the building blocks of protein. "While it has been reported that dogs possess taste receptors for salt, sweet, bitter and sour," she said, "dogs generally prefer meat or meat-flavored foods."

A complex neurological pathway goes from tongue to brainstem and finally to the cerebral cortex, Dr. Hohenhaus said. There, food sensations are "processed and perceived as tasty — or not — via the brain’s circuitry for reward and pleasure."

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[Times illustration up top by Victoria Roberts]

August 15, 2014 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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